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Florida Prison Erupts

On March 17, 1998, shortly after Hendry Correctional Institution (HCI) began feeding the prisoners supper, a melee broke out on the yard in front of the chowhall. Within moments, several guards, including the shift supervisor, were lying unconscious in the dirt.

The seeds of discord were planted months earlier when long-time HCI secuirty chief, Col James Page, was replaced for his corrupt ways by prison superintendent Paul Schriner. Under Page's tenure, HCI was a wide-open, laid back facility.

Since Schriner arrived in mid '96 after a 10 year stint in the Arizona DOC, HCI led Florida prisons in murders, robberies, drunks and general mayhem. This dubious distinction did not sit well with Schriner.

In early 1998, Schriner selected James "Lock 'em Up" Locke, as Page's replacement. Locke was a former HCI lieutenant, who transferred to North Florida Reception Center (NFRC), where he advanced through the ranks to colonel. NFRC is the notorious Lake Butler prison known for extreme totalitarianism and prisoner abuse.

Schriner and Locke soon formulated a plan to rein in HCI prisoners by instituting draconian policies. As word filtered down to the guards, the extremists among them began flexing their authority uncharacteristically.

Locke assumed command of HCI on February 13, 1998, around the same time mysterious yellow lines began appearing on the prison's sidewalks. Within two days, Ricardo Marintez escaped in the morning fog by cutting through the back fence.

The only reason Martinez was able to break out was a series of mindless blunders by HCI security staff. In a face-saving measure, the guards began getting "tough" on the prisoners. This was especially true of the evening shift which commences at 4p.m., just before the supper meal.

The new "tough guy" approach was particularly evident around the chowhall, during the evening meal. The guards would harass prisoners over their grooming, dress, or other trivialities. These practices were the antithesis of HCI, but the quintessence of NFRC.

On the evening of March 16, 1998, just as supper was concluding, Sgt. Davis, the main protagonist of the new prison order, decided to lock up two young Latins for horseplaying. In the process, Davis and several other guards began to beat, kick, and otherwise abuse the handcuffed prisoners, as they dragged them to the confinement unit.

This uncontrolled brutality did not sit well with the prisoners in the area, and a crowd instantly gathered. Although there was much hooting and hollering from the crowd, the yard quickly cleared once the siren sounded. Nevertheless, the mood was ugly. Throughout the night and the following day, the main topic of conversation among the prisoners was the incipient policy of open abuse.

The following evening, just after the first two dormitories were released for supper, Sgt. Davis was at it again. This time he was trying to handcuff a black prisoner, who was not about to submit. As Davis and the prisoner rolled around on the ground one of the prisoner's friends knocked Davis cold with a single punch.

When other guards attempted to intervene, prisoners emerged from the crowd and attacked them. In short order, sergeants Davis, Cady, Roberson, and Alexander, along with three guards, were out cold. One prisoner even decked the shift supervisor, Capt. Yvonne Kinchen, whose leadership inabilities led directly to the outbreak. According to eye witnesses, while Kinchen was face down in the dirt, prisoner "Boo Man" Smith ran to her aid and copped some cheap feels in the process.

Although the DOC spin doctors portrayed this incident as "the worst riot at Hendry in ten years" less than a dozen prisoners actually participated. Indeed, the whole incident lasted only a few minutes. Like the March 16th incident, prisoners reflexively cleared the yard at the sound of the siren.

Within two hours, goon squads entered the prison and began violently extracting prisoners. Gratuitous beatings were liberally administered, and by 2 a.m. 31 naked and bruised prisoners were transferred to other area prisons. Incredibly, several of those prisoners could not possibly have participated in the incident because they were locked inside dormitories that never opened for supper.

Over the next few days, a gang of thug guards led by Lt. Lynn systematically conducted a massive shakedown of the prison. Lynn and his subordinates maliciously looted, plundered and trashed prisoner property at will. Any prisoner who protested got roughed up and tossed in confinement.

By the time the total lockdown ended on March 24, 1998, 12 prisoners had been transferred to Hardee, 34 to DeSoto, and 2 informants went to Avon Park prisons. Since then, however, movement throughout the prison has been tightly controlled. In the words of Lt. Lynn, "no more freedom." Now, all movement is on yellow lines in silence.

Most veteran HCI prisoners agree that the "riot" was touched off by incompetent guards, inept supervisors, and an administration devoid of management skills. Rather than recognize the outbreak as a measured response to guard brutality, prison officials chose to portray the incident as an unprovoked uprising by feral prisoners. A year later, Hendry remains under tight control, and an unpleasant place to do time.

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